Best Portable Internet in 2021
Since the birth of the internet, we’ve seen all kinds of internet users. Business folks require constant access to secure and fast internet as they travel to even the most remote locations. Road warriors bike around cities and settle down in chic and inspirational neighborhoods to blog or run an online business. Now, in 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced adults and children to stay home and use the internet for work or school. No matter what type of internet user you are, there’s no doubt that the demand for portable internet is on the rise. Our guide will help you understand what to look for when portable internet is a must-have, wherever you are. Let’s dive into learning about the best portable internet in 2021!
What to Expect With Portable Internet
To put it simply, portable internet is receiving a stable internet connection through a dedicated mobile hotspot device. Similar to a wireless router, a mobile hotspot allows you to connect multiple devices. Generally, people need mobile hotspots if they travel frequently or stay away from home for long periods of time. Mobile hotspots can be used as a home internet connection if you don’t use large amounts of data or don’t require download speeds of over 50 Mbps. Also, people who live in areas with poor broadband service may find portable internet a more viable alternative.
Speeds and Data Usage
Although having a high speed internet connection wherever you go is ideal, there are some limitations to portable internet. Most mobile hotspot devices are still 4G, which means that download speeds are limited to around 50 Mbps. Also, many mobile hotspot plans have a soft data cap (a limit on your data usage before your download speeds are reduced to very slow speeds) or a hard data cap (a limit on your data usage that you will be charged for whenever you exceed that limit). These data caps limit most users to connecting two to five devices depending on the bandwidth requirements of each device.
Below, we note down popular online activities and services that require an internet connection as well as the download speed requirements and typical data usage for each. It’s best to understand just how much internet speed you need for the services you use on a daily basis.
|Service||Required Download Speeds||Data Usage in 1 Hour|
|YouTube (1080p HD)||5 Mbps||2.25 GB|
|Online Gaming||2 Mbps||0.9 GB|
|Zoom||6 Mbps||2.7 GB|
|Netflix (4K)||25 Mbps||11.25 GB|
If you’re streaming or gaming, you can connect one or (maybe) two devices to your mobile hotspot without compromising your online experience. If you’re a blogger or frequent business traveler that typically uses the internet for browsing the web or sending emails, you can connect up to five or more devices because these online activities won’t require high data needs. For vacationers, a mobile hotspot should still be adequate for two to five devices depending on your bandwidth usage, but don’t expect a single mobile hotspot to be the solution for a larger group of users who need high data usage.
What About 5G?
5G is the next generation for cellular data that’s still being implemented in the U.S. While the theoretical high speeds of 5G reaching 10 Gbps is an attractive goal, there are still some issues1 such as limited accessibility. Since 5G compatible smart devices are often more expensive than its 4G LTE counterparts, we recommend the latter until the former expands its service. If you really need a 5G mobile hotspot, consider Verizon Wireless or AT&T Wireless, as they have the largest networks and coverage for 5G compatible smart devices.
Portable Internet vs. Smartphones
Many people who own a smartphone have a mobile hotspot functionality, which begs the question, why would anyone want a dedicated mobile hotspot device in the first place? We make our case through the pros and cons listed below.
- Easily manage battery life for both your smartphone and mobile hotspot
- Wider range to connect devices
- Connect other smart devices like a tablet or smart watch
- A separate pool of internet data so you won’t experience reduced speeds on your smartphone for going over soft data caps
- Provides an external battery to charge other devices
- A second device you need to remember to charge and bring with you
- Additional costs for a second device
For light data usage, a smartphone is a viable option for connecting other devices to the internet, but for long-term higher data usage and connecting more than a couple of devices, a dedicated mobile hotspot is necessary—especially if you do not have access to unlimited data with your cell phone plan.
The Best Portable Internet Plans in 2021
While many mobile carriers offer mobile hotspots, the Big 3—Verizon Wireless, AT&T Wireless, and T-Mobile—gives the best coverage options in the U.S. Of the 51 mobile broadband providers, we believe the Big 3 are worthy of your attention.
|Mobile Provider||Plan||Price||Discounted Rate||High Speed Data 4G LTE|
|Verizon Wireless||Unlimited Plus||$85 per month||$30 with an existing plan||30 GB|
|AT&T Wireless||35 GB Plan||$75 per month||None||35 GB|
|T-Mobile||22 GB Prepaid||$90 per month||$85 with AutoPay||22 GB|
Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile have soft data caps, so you can use as much data as you want but only an allotment of 4G LTE data. The two providers also have different discounts—either by enrolling in an Unlimited Plus plan through Verizon or enrolling in AutoPay with T-Mobile. AT&T Wireless has a hard data cap and will charge an additional $10 for every 2 GB you use beyond the limit. They also don’t offer any discounts but do allow you to use hotspot data from your smartphone if you’ve already signed up with them. When deciding on a mobile hotspot plan, know that hard and soft data caps play a major role on the cost.
The Best Portable Wi-Fi Hotspots in 2021
Verizon Jetpack MiFi 8800L
Starting at $199, the Verizon Jetpack MiFi 8800L provides a 4400mAh battery, allowing up to 24 hours of usage. This is great for a couple of days worth of internet access without charging. The mobile hotspot device can be used in more than 200 countries, making it the perfect travel companion. The Verizon Jetpack can also connect to the 4G LTE or prior generations, broadcast up to Wi-Fi 802.11ac while supporting up to 15 devices simultaneously, and has a USB Type C port for faster charging—a standard for all new devices.
AT&T Netgear Nighthawk LTE Mobile Hotspot
The Netgear Nighthawk LTE Mobile Hotspot touts a 5040mAh that allows up to 24 hours of usage and up to 1.7 days of standby time. The mobile hotspot device costs $249.99 and supports up to 4G LTE connections, can broadcast 802.11ac while connecting up to 20 devices simultaneously, and uses USB Type C for fast charging.
T-Mobile Franklin T9 Mobile Hotspot
The Franklin T9 Mobile Hotspot, priced at $84, has a 2450mAh battery that provides about 8 hours of constant usage or 48 hours on standby, which is adequate for a full workday. It has a micro USB connection, which is disappointing, but gives you access to emergency charging, connects up to 4G LTE, and broadcasts up to Wi-Fi 802.11ac while supporting up to 15 devices simultaneously.
Skyroam Solis Mobile Hotspot
The Skyroam Solis Mobile Hotspot costs $99.99 and provides internet connections globally, including the U.S. It can connect to 4G LTE, broadcast up to a 802.11n Wi-Fi network, which is good enough for most users, and connects up to 10 devices simultaneously. The device also has a 4700mAh battery that provides 16 hours of usage, which is comparable to some of the higher-end mobile hotspot devices on the market.
The Features of Portable Internet
When choosing a mobile hotspot, there are several important features to prioritize for an optimal experience:
- Network: Your mobile hotspot will only be as good as the network that supports it. Look for a network that offers internet accessibility and high speeds to the areas where you will be visiting. Many mobile hotspot devices can be used with different network providers, so deciding which networks you like best should be one of your main priorities.
- Battery Life and Charging Type: All mobile hotspot devices have different battery sizes which affect how long you can connect to the internet. Look for devices that can operate for 18 hours or more, as some can give constant usage for over 20 hours. It’s important to note that mobile hotspot devices charge with a USB Type A or C cable can be used as an external battery. We recommend devices that use the same charging type as your smartphone.
- Wi-Fi: Be sure to get a mobile hotspot device that supports 2.4GHz, which allows for broad connection range, and 5GHz, which gives a faster transmission rate and reduces interference over Wi-Fi. To best utilize both Wi-Fi bands, you will want your mobile hotspot device to be up to Wi-Fi standards, including 802.11ac.
- USB Tethering: USB tethering allows you to connect a laptop directly to your mobile hotspot device using a USB cable. This is convenient if you’re in an area that’s overcrowded with Wi-Fi connections. USB tethering lets you bypass the risk of having a less secure and unreliable wireless connection.
How to Set up Your Portable Internet
Setting up your portable internet doesn’t require the help of a licensed technician. The following steps are a general guideline to accessing whichever mobile hotspot device you use on your smartphone. The process is pretty straightforward, so there’s no need to worry!
- Before setting up a mobile hotspot device, make sure that it’s charged.
- Insert a SIM card provided by the mobile carrier.
- Turn on the device by holding down the power button until the screen turns on.
- Follow the steps on the screen and set up a wireless network using the interface on the device.
The Future of Portable Internet
Portable internet will be a common solution for many users on the go. Countries like Japan only use mobile hotspots—otherwise known as pocket Wi-Fi—even at home! With 5G on the horizon, granting devices access to download speeds of up to 10 Gbps sounds like a far cry into the future but is definitely possible thanks to the advancement of technology. The only limiting factors may be an unstable connection and providers employing data cap restrictions. Until 5G mobile hotspots become more affordable—three times more expensive than 4G LTE mobile hotspots—and accessible, the current standard of portable internet is 4G LTE mobile hotspots for most users.
In Short: Do I Need a Mobile Hotspot?
Many mobile hotspot devices work with different mobile broadband providers, including international ones. If you feel like switching plans, most providers let you change it. This is particularly useful when you can’t afford more data. All in all, portable internet is a prime solution for travelers or individuals on-the-go. A dedicated mobile hotspot device is the best alternative for when you need access to the internet outside your home. While it doesn’t measure up to residential internet by any means, 5G internet will supposedly catch up in terms of speed and reliability. For now, though, you’ll have to make do with 4G LTE on your mobile hotspot device.
Frequently Asked Questions About Portable Internet
Which portable Wi-Fi is best?
The best portable Wi-Fi depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re traveling within the U.S. or need a local internet connection, Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile all offer competitive pricing and their speeds vary based on location. If you’re traveling internationally, then Verizon’s Jetpack MiFi 8800L or Skyroam Solis Mobile Hotspot are great options.
What is the best travel Wi-Fi?
The best travel Wi-Fi depends on your travel destination. If you’re traveling within the U.S., a mobile hotspot device and/or plan from a mobile broadband provider is a good place to start. Just make sure to check their coverage maps for the regions you will be traveling to. If traveling abroad, Verizon’s Jetpack MiFi 8800L or Skyroam Solis Mobile Hotspot are both great mobile hotspot devices for accessing an internet connection in a different country. Remember to check if the provider’s wireless network is compatible with the device.
Can a hotspot replace home internet?
A mobile hotspot can replace home internet if you have basic internet needs such as checking emails, surfing the web, or infrequent streaming. If you’re a frequent gamer, spend a few hours a day watching shows and movies online, or download large files, a mobile hotspot plan might not be able to support the amount of data you’re using. If that’s the case, residential internet is your ideal choice.
Is there a portable internet device?
There are various portable internet devices, or mobile hotspot devices, available depending on the location. Mobile hotspot devices from different mobile service providers allow you to connect multiple devices to the internet simultaneously.
Can I get Wi-Fi without an internet provider?
You can get Wi-Fi without an internet provider, as there are many public Wi-Fi hotspots available. While convenient, public Wi-Fi hotspots pose a security risk as they can compromise your private data such as your home address and payment information. It is highly recommended that if you’re traveling and need an internet connection, you should connect to a secure Wi-Fi network, connect via a VPN, or have a personal mobile hotspot.